Kirstie Allsopp caused a bit of a stir yesterday. In an interview with The Telegraph’s Bryony Gordon, she spoke about women’s limited fertility and when women choose to have kids. If you believe some articles that sprang up in reaction, she was telling the nation’s young women to bin off uni and find a nice man to settle down with, but I think her argument is slightly more complex than that.
“Women are being let down by the system,” she said. “We should speak honestly and frankly about fertility and the fact it falls off a cliff when you’re 35. We should talk openly about university and whether going when you’re young, when we live so much longer, is really the way forward. At the moment, women have 15 years to go to university, get their career on track, try and buy a home and have a baby. That is a hell of a lot to ask someone. As a passionate feminist, I feel we have not been honest enough with women about this issue.”
So far, so good. Have to say that I agree with Kirstie on all of that. Between the age of 18 and 35 we have so much to pack in. Kirstie continues by saying, “[Fertility] is the one thing we can’t change. Some of the greatest pain that I have seen among friends is the struggle to have a child. It wasn’t all people who couldn’t start early enough because they hadn’t met the right person.
“But there is a huge inequality, which is that women have this time pressure that men don’t have. And I think if you’re a man of 25 and you’re with a woman of 25, and you really love her, then you have a responsibility to say: ‘Let’s do it now.’
“I don’t have a girl, but if I did I’d be saying ‘Darling, do you know what? Don’t go to university. Start work straight after school, stay at home, save up your deposit – I’ll help you, let’s get you into a flat. And then we can find you a nice boyfriend and you can have a baby by the time you’re 27.”
“Yes,” she concedes, “that might sound wholly unrealistic. But we have all this time at the end. You can do your career afterwards. We have to readjust. And men can have fun after they have kids. If everyone started having children when they were 20, they’d be free as a bird by the time they were 45. But how many 45-year-olds do you know who are bogged down?
“I don’t want the next generation of women to go through the heartache that my generation has.”
It’s fantastic that Kirstie Allsopp has pushed this debate into the media. Talking about fertility and choice can only be a good thing and if it gets young women thinking about what they want from life, then that’s brilliant.
So much of what Kirstie says makes sense – of course we only have a limited window when it comes to starting a family, you can’t deny that, and I love the idea of questioning the order we do things in. Questioning things that we do because it’s how everyone else does it – that is the kind of thinking that led to women getting the vote and the kind of thinking that led to women working in jobs previously only done by men and the kind of thinking that led to fairer pay for women and the kind of thinking that will see flexible working rights change later this month and paternity leave rights change next year.
Questioning how and why we do things is the way forward. Of course it is.
However, where I struggle to agree with Kirstie is her suggestion that women should put having a family ahead of everything else. Some might argue that she’s simply asking that young women are more aware of their limited fertility, so that they can make an informed choice early on, but is that realistic?
When I was 21, I graduated and was desperate to start my career. So desperate that while other friends went off travelling for a year, I stayed at home and interned until I was offered my first job. I had dreamt of working on a magazine since I was 16 and I had fire in my belly – excited and full of anticipation of where my career would take me. If someone – anyone – had sat down and said, “Look here, Alison, you’ve got to be aware that you’ve only got around 14 years left of good fertility so really think about whether you should be focusing on finding a man and working towards having a baby,” I would have laughed in their face.
A baby? I’d have thought. Why on earth would I want to sacrifice starting my career and let other people take opportunities that I could have?
But more importantly, I still felt like a bit of a child myself back then. I actually met my (now) husband when I was 20. We moved in together when I was 22 and we pretty much knew we’d be together forever (1,2,3 aaahh) so by Kirstie Allsopp’s thinking, we should have had a conversation back then about having kids.
But we weren’t emotionally ready. We weren’t mature enough. I was going out drinking every night, having silly fall outs with friends, experiencing life dramas that most 20-somethings experience (blimey, it was exhausting, wasn’t it?). There’s no way we were ready to be responsible parents. Of course, many 20-somethings are, but we weren’t. My biological clock might have been ready, but my brain wasn’t. And when you have a baby, you need your brain to be fully in gear. Crikey, I struggled with a newborn at age 31, I would have cracked if I’d been 27.
And that’s my point – if this debate had been happening 14 years ago, all it would have achieved is an extra layer of pressure on the 21-year-old me. I would have felt totally stressed out at the idea that I should be considering starting a family. So, while I’m all for questioning things and love that this is being discussed, I think that for most people, it’s not a realistic option.
What do you think? What age did you have kids and would you do things differently if you went back in time? kirstie allsopp fertility
Image credit: kirstieallsopp.co.uk
I totally agree with you, I was 29 when my daughter was born and I wasn’t ready or in a position to have a baby before then. There is also the argument that being established in your career and therefore more financially stable is important before considering having a family. What works for one person may not work for another, but I love the fact that we all have that choice nowadays x
Interesting points here. I had my first at 23 and second at 26. I felt mature and ready for the challenges lucky for me my career meant that I could dip in and out of it without feeling like is given up my role for a younger model. My husband and I look forward to when we’re both 40 and put kids will both at at uni. That’s when we’re going to do our travelling that we missed out on in our 20’s. Fertility never crossed my mind but I have watched many friends struggle in their 30’s trying to conceive. I do feel young and full of energy when I have seen others in their late 30’s early 40’s exhausted with a young baby or toddler
I agree, it’s good to question things. I certainly wasn’t ready at 21 – heck, I’d not even met my husband then. I still had travelling to do, a degree to finish and a career to start. But, just a few years later, I WAS ready. I had my daughter when I was 26 (nearly 27) and she was very much planned. It sounds cynical, but when I met my now husband we just knew we wanted to be together and we’d found the “right” one (sorry – fetch the sick bucket!). We also knew we wanted more than one child and we didn’t want them really close together – even before I was a mum I knew I would struggle to cope with a newborn and a toddler. So we decided to try for a baby and, luckily, got pregnant pretty quickly. The thing I struggled with most was having to deal with the judgement from people who couldn’t get their head around the fact we hadn’t done things in the “right” order. We hadn’t got married first, bought a house first and I wasn’t yet 30. Apparently, according to some of the people I knew, I was absolutely mad to have a baby before I was 30. And that’s where I think the questioning point that Kirstie makes is a GOOD thing. I’d have LOVED it if, as a new mum, this article had come out. I could have waved it in the face of some of the doubters and said, “Look! I’m not the only one who has had a baby before she’s 30! Maybe I’m not so mad after all!”. If it had come out when I was 21 then I rather doubt I’d have read it anyway – I’d have been too busy down the pub or with my head in a magazine somewhere.
I had my daughter at 36, so I think I’m exactly the kind of person who Kirstie seems to be talking about – university, career, marriage then kids. And there are so many reasons I’m glad I’ve done it that way (even if everything has its downside too) – I got to find out who I was as a person, follow some of my own dreams, enjoy being young without responsibilities before my gorgeous girl completely changed my life. At 21 I don’t think I even wanted kids…
Perhaps I could have done some of the things I did in my 20s when I was older, but I don’t think anything is ever quite the same once you’re a parent. And from a purely practical point of view, by the time I came to take maternity leave, I was established in my career – and have been able to work part-time since, which would have been a lot tougher if I’d had a baby first then tried to take my degree, postgrad course, train and work up. I’ve nothing but admiration for SAHMs (and dads) but I know working helped keep me sane too.
As a mother of a daughter, there’s no way I’ll be suggesting to her that she skip university until she’s 50, get a job (for which she might need/want a degree anyway) and settle down to have kids first – unless that’s what she wants.
When I read the truncated version that the London Evening Standard printed yesterday, my immediate thought was, “Wow. Notanothermummyblog will have something to say about this.”.
I have to say I agree with her, in that we should really think at least about what it is we want out of life. I had my first baby at 22, second at 25, third at 27, and built up my business after them. For some people, a career first is the right option, personally, I’m so glad that I started a family young as to us, family is far more important than hitting ‘career milestones’ or making lots of money, but that’s a personal decision and is reflected in how we live – we’re not interested in fancy cars, big houses, material possessions, etc – family comes first over money for us x
I went to uni, started my career and then had my first child at 35 (expecting number 2 now aged 38), so I’m one if the women Kirstie is talking about too.
Why did I wait until then? Well, a number of reasons (as I’m sure most people have). I didn’t feel emotionally ready to be a parent in my 20’s, I was too busy finding out who I was, experiencing life and generally having a ball (& amongst all this finding a man I loved enough!) Then there was the financial side – living in London means it’s very hard just to pay rent, or get a mortgage. It’s tricky to have a baby in a flat share!
I’m glad I waited to start a family – I am happy wth the man I chose, we have a secure home, and we partied hard enough that actually it was a relief to give it all up (but not have any regrets). However… We did discover that it’s not quite as simple as just deciding to start a family.
It took almost a year for me to fall pregnant and then we received terrible news at the 12wk scan and had to end the pregnancy.
Life doesn’t always go to plan, at least not the plan you have planned! I think this debate is definitely worth having and it is useful to bring these issues to the table, but I’m not sure that I would have changed the way I did things.
i don’t have a child (neither do i want one) so i can’t comment on that front, but i think as long as people realise that not everybody wants or strives for the same things, there would be a tiny bit less pressure. obviously i’m generalising, but there are definitely people out there that think ‘oh, they must not be happy if they don’t have kids/are married/a home by such and such age’.
i have known SO many people that have done these things, not because they really wanted to, but because they felt like they should, and that’s what upsets me. i just think you have to do (or try to) do what’s best for you. if you want kids, and then a career, do that! other way round? do that!
everybody’s circumstances are so different (but simililar in their differences too) so i think discussion is good either way 🙂
Love this. Very interesting and as an IVFer myself, it’s great to see fertility in the media. I’m a little different as I have been a nanny since I was 16 (now 28), which means I love kids and was what I did for a job, so having my own was a dream since I was about 10! I got to 18 and found out i had PCOS. I knew I wanted children soon ish (I met my husband at 16 and by 18 somehow knew it would last forever). I started to look into my fertility and it led me down all kinds of routes – investigations, operations etc. I learned I had PCOS and blocked tubes. IVF was the only route. I wanted to go for it at 19 not knowing how long it would take me and if it would ever work. All I knew was that I wanted kids and was scared I couldn’t. My boyfriend (now husband) owned his own company even back then and we owned a flat thanks to him, so we were defiitely settled and I had grown up very fast and already looking after all ages as a nanny, including newborns, so was definitely mature enough. He on the other hand was having none of it!! He ahd just started a business, bought a flat, stil loved going out drinking and was no way going to want children until he was 30. He had much more playing to do before then and wouldn’t compromise. I still carried out all operations etc but he wouldn’t agree to IVF until he was at least 30 (8 years away). For me those 8 years were agonising and we often argued about it when I got desperate, and was worried I was getting less fertile every year that went by. I’m now 28 and 2 years ago he finally felt ready and agreed to start IVF. Since then, we’ve had 5 cyces of IVF and the last one worked -finally! (We had a very early miscarriage with cycle 3) but on cycle 5 we had success and I’m due to have our first baby in 6 weeks!!! I’m ecstatic and can’t believe we finally got here but even at my age it took us 5 goes and two solid years of back to back IVF which saw me get depression after a few constant fails, but having said all that I still would never have forced my husband to do it before he’s ready – that’s madness! He has to be ready too. If not, you risk your marriage with a baby he wasn’t ready for, the man may go off cheating as he’s lusting after the single fun life he lost – I don’t know, but I DO know that you can’t expect a man that young to have children when he isn’t emotionally ready. Not in this day and age anyway. Maybe things will change in the future and all men will be ready earlier – but even now all women aren’t ready earlier, just like you weren’t! Gosh, you can see this kind of thing hits a nerve with us IVFers, can’t you!! It’s not as simple as people think and even my husband was surprised at my age it took us 5 goes. It’s very important to raise media awareness of fertility though so that’s good. Great post, loved reading it!
Very though provoking. My mum had me when she was 22 and I had Lola when I was 38. Neither time was right or wrong it was just how it worked out for both of us. It amuses me that i was 18 at my mums 40th and lola was 18mths at mine but i don’t think she suffers because I’m an ‘older’ mummy (besides, her dads 31 so we kind of even out). I’d say the biggest regret, if i’ve got one, for me having Lola later is the likelihood that we may not have another – but that is ok. We can live with that
I have to say that I think she has a point and couldn’t quite understand what all the fuss was about yesterday. We’re all different of course and I don’t think there really is such a thing as a right time to have babies – it’s only the right time for you. But the fact is that fertility does have a shelf life where as a degree or career doesn’t necessarily. I think some people would actually get more out of being a mature student too. I know some commenters have said that they weren’t ready to think about having babies so young but actually, some people don’t really know what they want to do as a career at that age so don’t always make the best of those university years. I had my first baby at 21 and by 30 I had four children under 10 and I wouldn’t change a single thing. I loved being a younger mum and it makes me so sad to see friends now in their late thirties who did wait and are now having problems conceiving. I wouldn’t wish infertility on my worst enemy it’s heartbreaking.
Aargh! I can see both sides, and have commented as such elsewhere. A baby would have terrified me in my 20’s, but that’s because it’s not what everyone else was doing, and I didn’t own my own home until well into that decade. Even then, even if I’d had a partner to help, money would have been tight with a child, and I’d have felt forced back to work immediately. As it is, I did struggle with fertility, it was heartbreaking, and costly, but I was in a position to make those choices, financially and emotionally.
Whilst I agree with her sentiment, I think A LOT has to change about our society before her goal becomes a realistic one. Not least job and work flexibility and employment benefits, as well as university tuition fees. It’s a nice idea in principle, but I fear it’s not workable yet.
The only thing I agree with is that it’s usually easier to MAKE a child earlier in life. I didn’t do that because I didn’t have the opportunity. Now I am a first time parent at 38. I am as clueless as I would’ve been at 21. I am fighting the clock on any subsequent children. Get your fertility checked, be prepared, think realistically. Family planning is no game once you’re over 35. Kirstie has that bit dead right.
Hmm, Kirsty! I’m 50% with her at the best of times, but I think it’s really silly for someone like her to be commenting on the right way to do things. It’s so different for every one! I left my career at 25 to have my first – was planning to go back to work after 10 months, but life happened & by that time I was 4 months pregnant with number 2 – and after number 3 arriving 3 years ago, i’ve ‘suddenly’ been out of work for almost 10 years! There is no way I can pick that career up again, so i’m having to re-think. That wouldn’t have happened if i’d waited until now (34) to start a family because I would have been more than well-established. However, i am so glad I had my family young – all 3 of mine will be in full time education by the time I am 36 – so I still feel young enough (sometimes!) to have the ambition to try something new – having my lovely little family already.
Major ramble there – but *eye-roll* at Kirsty again 😉
This is a debate which is really interesting! I’m not sure where I stand! For me we are doing things the “Kirstie” way…we had a child in our mid twenties before we had established our careers as we were straight out of Uni. The difference being that I knew before I finished my course that it wasn’t going to be my line of career, so when finding out I was pregnant by surprise, it actually came at at time where I could say why not? Luckily I’d already done a fair amount of travelling and partying so didn’t feel like I was missing out.
Of course we’ve struggled finically, and with jobs, but slowly and surely we’re getting there, and we know that if we have our family now, whilst we are young, then we’ve got the rest of our lives to figure out our careers, re-study and travel. I’m quite excited by that!
when I read her piece yesterday I thought ‘wow I’m actually agreeing with something Kirstie Allsopp said??’ Usually the women enrages me! As usual her comments were meant to be controversial but I think that there can be lots of benefits to having children young (isn) I was 26 (by one week) when I had W although I would have been a parent earlier had we not miscarried when I was 24. Like Molly though all my friends thought I was nuts having a baby before I was 30 and family(in law) made comments about how we were ‘boring’ and old before our time and yet I know so many people who are having fertility issues in their late 30’s. I don’t agree with putting pressure on anyone to have a child at anytime though and I think maybe had a read this when I was not in a secure relationship I might have felt pressured. Of course you have to take the whole article with a major eye roll when she mentions buying her suppose daughter a flat etc, still it’s an interesting debate xx
I have to say I kind of agree but I also think it totally comes down to the person and their own goals in life. I was never career driven and at the age of 18 would have struggled to make any sensible decisions so choosing a degree in an area I wanted to spend the rest of my life working in was out of the question. I had Cherry when I was 25 and it was only after becoming a mum that I knew myself well enough to focus on the career side of my life. Now I’m 30 with two kids and I am excited about all the plans I have for the future. My mum had a baby when she was in her early 40’s and she really struggled with how tired she was and how much hard work a baby / toddler is. I struggle and I’m 29! I think we are meant to have babies younger, it’s a fact. Apparently our fertility peaks at 21 which would suggest nature intended us to do it younger but at the end of the day people can live their life in any way they choose. As long as Cherry is happy and enjoying her life then I won’t mind in what order she chooses to do things x
We can plan all we want but life is funny because it never actually turns out how you’ve plan. I was at uni when I found out I was pregnant with my first. As a career minded person who knew what she want to study since secondary school, I felt like my world was crashing down. I wasn’t ready and with the career I wanted to pursue its nearly impossible to succeed as a woman with children. Iv now hard another child and look forward to starting my career when I’m 30. So, in a way I agree with Kirstie however like I said you can plan but it doesn’t always go as planned. Everyone is different and having kids first may not be the best choice for some.
Funnily enough one of the pieces of advice I plan to give my girls is not to wait too long to have kids. A notion I thought was a bit prehistoric in current times. Why do I think this? Because I look at generations where the raising of kids is ‘done’ by early 40s as opposed to our generation where it’s often just beginning. And I think, ‘Wow some of us are going to be doing this parenting lark well into our late 50s. That scares me a bit. We should be having a nap by then. Having said that fertility aside does it matter which way round you do it? ‘Life’ first or ‘life’ after? And there is a lot to be said for being ready, emotionally and financially. I definitely think the age of having children is changing. I’ve met more younger mums of late. So I think the trend is changing a bit anyway…
I had my daughter 3 days before I turned 34. I wouldn’t have had it any other way despite meeting my husband at 19 and then actually getting together at 23. For 10 years we built our careers, seen half of the world with the carelessness of a 20 something who has nobody else to think of beside herself. It sucks that fertility decreases at 35, but I’d choose my path again and would suggest my daughter does the same. University is great at 20, so is dating, travelling, working hard and partying hard. If some celebrity or my own mother suggested I had babies then, I would have seriously run for my life! All of that said, everyone is different, so what worked for me might be someone else’s idea of hell and that is why we should never judge others.
I’m pretty cool with what she said but that’s probably because that’s the order I’m doing things in! I had my first baby at 25 and my second at 28. I’m glad to have had them young. I’ve grown up through the experience of having them and I have so much energy for them. I can see the difference between my energy levels now and even three years ago so it makes me glad I had them when I did. I also feel like I have a lot of time ahead to do the things I want to do for me. However, realistically speaking, fertility should not just be a female issue. Men need to be interested in having kids young too and many aren’t. And there is the problem of what happens if you don’t stay together or something happens to the other person. It could then become even more difficult to get a career going. It’s good to talk about this though.
I think it’s true that she was misquoted (as most people are) but it’s a tricky subject to talk about as everyone feels differently about it and rightfully so, I think with anything like this its purely up to personal choice. Great post
So many things to say on this…. not sure where to start.
I don’t agree with the notion that it’s good that she has got the subject out there, because it already was. This notion that women are not aware of their limited fertility is amusing. I mean, it’s EVERYWHERE. As a 34 year-old, childless, career women, I’m pretty sure that Grazia want to do an article about my dead eggs or that the Daily Mail are already circling to get my contact details so that I can write my “regret” story in ten years time…. Maybe I’m just paranoid.
That said, it was disappointing that that it was advice to her pretend daughters. She gave a cursory mention to her sons at the end, but it felt like an afterthought. HOW ARE WE STILL HERE? Even when someone is giving advice to pretend children, it falls to the woman to deal with children (and this is with reference to 20 years time).
She also seems to miss the alternative option of going to university, broadening your horizons, educating yourself, starting a career, not buying a house, but still having a baby in your 20s and then getting back on with a career; but I guess property is her thing…
I hope a bunch of mid-20-somethings in relationships with the wrong man, without enough maturity to look after themselves let alone a baby, and without stability haven’t read her interview and started thinking that maybe they should have a baby after all, because I could have got married and had a baby in my 20s, and I would have been divorced by now!
That said, everyone is different, and people want different things from different parts of our lives. I know people who made the decision to have their children in their 20s and they’re very happy with their lot. My 20s was the best decade of my life for other reasons.
Ultimately, I think she has attracted so much vitriol, because it’s not a very “right-on” message whilst touching a nerve with a lot of women at the same time.
There appears to be a disconnect between our biology and our sociology. While women’s bodies are designed and encouraged to have children in their early 20s…and yet it seems we do not raise our children to be mentally prepared for it. Our materialistic culture is apparently at odds with our biological truths.
Thank you for opening up this great discussion about young women and fertility. As a young entrepreneur myself I definitely felt the pressure to get some semblance of control over my career before I even thought about kids. That led me to have my first baby at 35, and thinking of my second at 37. This can lead to more health complications for some women and can cause issues with fertility.
There is certainly more pressure on young women, and we certainly need to be easy on each other!